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Libyan Oil Protests Highlights Broader Problems

By Daniel J. Graeber | Thu, 26 April 2012 22:40 | 0

Protestors in the former Libyan capital of Benghazi this week demonstrated in front of the Arabian Gulf Oil Co. to demand more transparency. The demonstrators said they were frustrated with how the interim government was spending money, highlighting the growing frustration among post-revolutionary youth in the Middle East. The protests over corruption coincided with one of Libya's first international oil and natural gas expos since the Gadhafi era ended last year. British and U.S. officials were among those whose visit to Libya happened to coincide with the exhibition, raising questions over just what's at stake in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Only a few dozen protesters showed up to protest in front of the steps to the Arabian Gulf Oil Co. in the eastern city of Benghazi. But their voices may be part of the pent up frustration among Arab youth angry that, despite regime change, 1.6 million barrels of Libyan crude oil hasn't changed things very much for them. A few hundred miles to the west, major delegates descended on Tripoli for the first oil and natural gas exhibition since Gadhafi's regime collapsed last year. Exhibition organizers note that $100 billion in unfrozen assets mean good things for the country's redevelopment. Attendees will have the chance, organizers say, to learn how the game is played in the new Libya.

But is anything new? Before the crisis began in Libya, the British government was in the hot seat for allegedly making shady deals with the Gadhafi regime in exchange for an exploration deal for BP. Now, in turns out, British Foreign Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt is on his way home following a two-day visit to Tripoli. Though his itinerary said nothing of the oil and gas exhibition, the timing is certainly convenient. In London, meanwhile, law firm Leigh Day & Co. is investigating allegations British officials were involved in the rendition of Libyan military commander Abdel Hakim Belhadj. The law firm states, among other things, that former British intelligence chief Mark Allen left MI6 in 2004 to join BP, where he later helped land contracts in Libya. Meanwhile, Italian energy company Eni is under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly bribing Libyan officials. But that did little to discourage U.S. Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez from giving a keynote address at the oil and gas exhibition.

A vegetable merchant in Tunisia, Mohamed Bouazizi, self-immolated in December 2010, sparking what's become known as the Arab Spring. Two years before that, Egyptians rioted in the streets over the price of bread. Now, it appears not much has changed. Egyptians are still frustrated, violence in Bahrain continued unabated and Libyans are still upset with their government. Re-establishing formal relationships with post-revolutionary governments is vital for the global economy, especially when it comes to global commodities like oil and natural gas. But trickle-down economic principles aside, revolutions are about change. In the oil-rich Middle East, however, it appears that so far, the only thing that's changed is the names of the ministers involved.

By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com

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